'Eat, Pray, Love' Author Shares the Story of How She Fell in Love with Her Best Friend
Just a couple months ago, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, announced that she and her husband were separating.
“I am separating from the man whom many of you know as ‘Felipe’ — the man whom I fell in love with at the end of the EAT PRAY LOVE journey. He has been my dear companion for over 12 years, and they have been wonderful years. Our split is very amicable. Our reasons are very personal.”
Those personal reasons? She’d fallen in love with her best friend.
ME & RAYYA
Dear Ones -
There is something I wish to tell you today — something which I hope and trust you will receive with grace.
This spring, I received news that would change my life forever. My best friend Rayya Elias was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer — a disease for which there is no cure.
In the moment I first learned of Rayya’s diagnosis, a trap door opened at the bottom of my heart (a trap door I didn’t even know was there) and my entire existence fell straight through that door. From that moment forward, everything became about HER. I cancelled everything in my life that could be cancelled, and I went straight to her side, where I have been ever since.
Many of you already know who Rayya Elias is to me. She’s my best friend, yes, but it’s always been bigger than that. She’s my role model, my traveling companion, my most reliable source of light, my fortitude, my most trusted confidante. In short, she is my PERSON. I have spoken about her so many times on this page, and many of you have heard me speak about her in my speeches, too (such as my “Hummingbird” speech, where I sang her praises with all the love I could muster.) Some of you have even come to see the two of us speaking together on stage, over the years. Anyone who has ever seen us together knows that I am devoted to Rayya. I’ve never made a secret of it. As Ann Patchett said once of our friendship: “Your love for Rayya has always been writ large.”
But something happened to my heart and mind in the days and weeks following Rayya’s diagnosis. Death — or the prospect of death — has a way of clearing away everything that is not real, and in that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya. And I have no more time for denying that truth. The thought of someday sitting in a hospital room with her, holding her hand and watching her slide away, without ever having let her (or myself!) know the extent of my true feelings for her…well, that thought was unthinkable.
Here is the thing about truth: Once you see it, you cannot un-see it. So that truth, once it came to my heart’s attention, could not be ignored.
But what to do with this potentially life-shattering truth?
Now let me tell you something I’ve learned from Rayya, over the fifteen years of our friendship. She is the most brave and honest person I know, and she has taught me more about courage and honesty than anyone I have ever met. Here is her mantra on truth, which I’ve heard her express so many times over the years, in so many difficult situations:
“The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
So I did what Rayya has taught me to do: I just started there. I spoke my truth aloud.
For those of you who are doing the math here, and who are wondering if this situation is why my marriage came to an end this spring, the simple answer is yes. (Please understand that I cannot say anything more about it than that. I trust you are all sensitive enough to understand how difficult this has been. As David Foster Wallace once wrote: “The truth will set you free — but not until it’s had its way with you.” Yes, it has been hard. Yes, the truth has had its way with us. And yes, the truth still stands.)
So. Here is where we stand now: Rayya and I are together. I love her, and she loves me. I’m walking through this cancer journey with her, not only as her friend, but as her partner. I am exactly where I need to be — the only place I can be.
The reason I haven’t yet spoken publicly about me and Rayya is because we (and our families) have needed this cocoon of privacy over these last few months, as we face all and process all these massive changes and challenges.
So why I am speaking publicly about this now?
Because — for better or worse — I am someone who lives her life in the public eye. This summer has been an essential period of silence, healing, and incubation for us. I have needed that time, and I’ve been grateful to have it. But summer is over. I have work to do in the world — work that I can’t put off anymore. I will be out and about in a very public way again over the next few weeks and months. People will be looking at me again. And when people look at me, they will inevitably see me with Rayya, because — as God is my witness — whenever Rayya is healthy enough to be by my side, she will be by my side. (Trust me: We will not be wasting a moment of our time together, for as much time as we are given.)
For reasons of my own integrity and sanity, I need to be able to walk into any room in the world with Rayya on my arm, feeling relaxed enough to stand comfortably in simple openness about who we actually are to each other. If I can’t be my true self (whether at home in privacy, or out there in the world in public) then things will very quickly get messy and weird and stupid in my life. Sure, I could pretend that Rayya is still just my best friend, but that would be…you know… pretending. Pretending is demeaning, and it makes you weak and confused, and it’s also a lot of work. I don’t do that kind of work anymore.
Here’s what it comes down to for me: I need to live my life in truth and transparency, even more than I need privacy, or good publicity, or prudence, or other people’s approval or understanding, or just about anything else. Truth and transparency not only make my life more ethical, but also easier. (Why easier? Because untruth is always complicating, and truth — no matter what the consequences — is always strangely simplifying.) So that is why Rayya and I have decided together to speak up publicly now — both about her cancer and about our love for each other. It’s for the sake of our own integrity, but it’s also intended to make our lives simpler.
As for what I am asking from you, in response to my truth?
Let me begin by saying what I am not asking for. If any of you kind souls out there are tempted right now to send me or Rayya information about treatments or cures for pancreatic or liver cancer…I gently and respectfully beg you to restrain yourselves. (One thing you discover when a loved one has cancer is that EVERYBODY has either a miracle story or a horror story about cancer that they are desperate to tell you. Rayya and I are already drowning in all these stories of special diets, amazing clinics, terrible doctors, new trials, cautionary tales… I understand that people only want to help, but please don’t overwhelm us with any more data, ok? Rayya has chosen her path through this illness, and she is strong in her choices. Thank you for caring, though!)
But here is what I will ask for: Because I believe in love, I will ask for love.
Whatever extra love you might be carrying around in your hearts right now, could you direct some this way? I would appreciate it so much, and — trust me — it will be felt. And it will help. We will resonate with it, and we will thank you for it. Because truth is the force that guides us to where we need to be in life, but love is the power that heals us once we arrive there.
Peace, blessings, and health to all.
The end of a relationship, and cheating if that is what took place, can be a sad thing. But obviously all relationships are complex, and can be made more so by heteronormativity. Heteronormativity and presupposed “straightness” as default can be confusing—one kind of love can be mistaken for another solely because it doesn’t occur to someone they could have those kind of feelings for someone of the same gender. I have nothing but good wishes for Gilbert and her Rayya.
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